The Cherwell: Self defence or Criminal killing?
Alex Waksman – Oxford Israeli Cultural Society Secretary
In the court of public opinion, Israel is on trial. It is charged with causing the war in Gaza, executing it disproportionately and having no aim but revenge. Why not accept these claims? Because if we incorrectly analyse this tragedy, we will never prevent it from recurring.
The accusation of causing a war is vacuous. In 2008, Hamas fired over 3,000 rockets and mortar bombs were fired into Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip, all of which were directed against civilians. Prominent Arab politicians, such as the Palestinian president and the Egyptian foreign minister had warned Hamas that its actions would provoke an Israeli response. After 3,000 rocket attacks, Israeli self-defence cannot be misrepresented as a “cause” of the war itself. As for the charge of disproportionality, this depends on two factors: the scale of the threat to Israel and the nature of its response. Some caricature the operation as “an eye for an eyelash”.
But attacks that for years have disrupted the lives of whole towns in Southern Israel cannot be considered trivial. Regarding the higher Palestinian death toll, the UN estimates that only 25% of those killed were civilians. This demonstrates that Israel has targeted Hamas combatants in compliance with the rules of war, and disproves the suggestion that the Israeli military inflicts collective punishment regardless of blame. Indeed, the army has been phoning the inhabitants of to-be-targeted buildings to give them warning of impending attacks and time to evacuate, as well as calling off strikes where the risk is too high. Civilian deaths are inevitable in every war, but especially in Gaza due to Hamas’ human shield strategy. Videos of Hamas operatives booby-trapping schools with explosives, and using mosques as munitions stores have been broadcast worldwide. The idea is to force the IDF either to go ahead with the operation, risking civilian casualties, or call it off and allow Hamas to attack. Damned if you do; die if you don’t.
Finally, this is not a war without purpose. Israel hopes to prevent future indiscriminate rocket attacks and stop arms smuggling across the Egypt-Gaza border. If it achieves these, it will make both the Israeli and Palestinian 0peoples safer, and enable future peaceful coexistence.
Few states in history have suffered such constant and ferocious attacks as Israel, and none have responded with such restraint. It is time for the false allegations to stop.
Myriam Cerrah – DPhil in Middle-East Politics
The record is clear. “In retaliation for the Israeli attack, Hamas then launched the missiles,” the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs states. Israel broke the ceasefire. UNRWA also confirms this, stating the break-down of the truce was the fault of Israel, for it never fulfilled the first condition: to relax its siege on Gaza. By killing six Palestinians on November 4, it violated the second condition: not to launch any attacks into Gaza. Hamas was willing to renew the truce if Israel ended the 18-month siege that had already caused a humanitarian crisis before this phase began. Former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, described what was going on in Gaza as “a destruction of a civilization.” This was during the ceasefire period.
Since Israel launched its offensive on 27 December, over 1,300 Palestinians have been killed and over 5,000 injured, 40% of whom are women and children. 13 Israelis have been killed. 3 were civilians, and 4 of the soldiers were killed by ‘friendly fire.’ At a ratio of a hundred to one, I am appalled Israel’s right to self-defence is even cited. In the words of Gideon Levy, “a thousand propagandists and apologists cannot excuse this criminal killing.”
The right to self defence is absolute. It applies to Israelis being attacked in Israel as it applies to Palestinians being attacked in Gaza. No less absolute are the laws governing warfare: proportionality, not targeting civilians like the 43 killed in the bombing of a UN School, not using chemical weapons like white phosphorous in the most densely populated strip of land on earth, not attacking aid workers or their facilities, schools or universities, and allowing media access. The question remains, is Israel better defended through this decimation of an impoverished population?
Israel’s three stated ambitions were to stop rocket fire, weaken Hamas and stop weapon trafficking from Egypt. Today, Hamas retains control and the ability to fire rockets into Israel. If these war crimes ever could be justified, the failure to meet these objectives renders the carnage all the more poignant. The last objective to end weapons smuggling could never have been achieved through this type of offensive. A real solution requires less temporal questions. It involves a just resolution of the Palestinian struggle for a sovereign state. End the illegal settlements, end the siege on Gaza, accept international consensus and abide by international law